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As the favorite perennial issue of the magazine, this July we celebrate Park and Recreation Month — the most glorious time of year for parks and recreation! This year’s theme, “Our Park and Recreation Story,” is sure to bring out countless wonderful stories. From walking and hiking our public trails to playing sports to gathering for summer camps and summer picnics to going on trips to community gardens and farmers markets, we are all filled with the abundance that parks and recreation offer. And, we are creating new park and recreation stories every day.
Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing park and recreation stories everywhere I turned. For example, there was the person who delivered siding to my house. Once he saw my parks and recreation logo, he immediately began asking questions about NRPA and sharing how much parks and recreation have meant to him and his family. And, there was the bank loan officer who assisted me with my mortgage refinancing. After I had explained to him what NRPA does, he replied, “that’s the coolest thing I’ve heard....” He then launched into describing all the fantastic parks and outdoor recreation opportunities his community in Ohio offers.
Our park and recreation stories are embedded in why professionals joined this field and stuck with it. Recently, I had the honor of meeting Gorham Recreation Department Director Cindy Hazelton in Gorham, Maine, and her team. In her 30 years of doing this work, she’s been motivated by the opportunity to serve the community, to help kids and adults alike stay healthy, and to find creative ways to solve problems and engage people in her community. One fun example she shared was an immersive summer camp that she developed to help kids learn about emergency services — 911 Summer Camp.
Another renowned leader in this field who is always a joy to talk with is the incomparable storyteller Jodie Adams. She has been a passionate advocate for capturing stories from across the field of park and recreation professionals and is in conversation with NRPA about an oral history project to do just that. One of her signature lines that captures the spirit of the park and recreation profession is “Go for it!” Going for it — creating great spaces, programs and communities — is the foundation of the stories we hold dear.
In keeping with the story theme, we have a special treat for this year’s Park and Recreation Month — a crowd-sourced, community poem created by the renowned poet, educator and author Kwame Alexander. Our project launch conversation revealed that he, too, has a park and recreation story. His story was rooted in “the rec,” where he would go after school to meet up with his friends and play. He described it as a place where he was understood, accepted and free to be himself. It seems to me that his story is so often our shared story.
My park and recreation story started with “programs at the playground.” I had the chance to play, craft and learn new things, all while feeling safe and free to be myself. That opportunity to play, explore, express oneself, and feel safe, free, seen and supported is something — valuable beyond measure.
Our local governments, and by extension our park and recreation departments, are required to put a price on that, of course. And yet, as we immerse ourselves in all that summer in parks and recreation has to offer, I hope that we recognize that these memories we are creating are truly priceless. Telling “Our Park and Recreation Story” helps us show our advocates and elected officials that these priceless stories — the ones that shape our lives and enrich our communities — are stories that deserve investment. The long-term payoff is immeasurable.
Borrowing from last year’s Park and Recreation Month theme, let me remind you that at parks and recreation, we are strong, we are confident, we are selfless, we are passionate, we are driven, we are essential, and THIS IS OUR STORY.
Kristine Stratton, NRPA's President and CEO